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St. Louis is known as the Gateway to the West. It has earned that title because it is located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, making it a natural center of economic and political activity for the region, as well as the logical starting point for the western expansion of the United States beyond the Mississippi.
St. Louis served as the economic and political center of Spanish Upper Louisiana, the starting point for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and the economic and social center of what would become the state of Missouri.
It is a large (2.8 million in the greater metropolitan area) but accessible city that fronts on the Mississippi River. Its most identifiable feature is the 630-foot-tall Gateway Arch, located downtown. But there is far more to St. Louis than the arch. The city hosts a lively nightlife, beautiful Forest Park, a renowned zoo, an excellent aquarium and attractions for the whole family.
The river is a center of commerce with busy ship and barge traffic, rail lines, highways on each side and industry galore. It is also a tourist attraction with boat rides and restaurants with a river view. East St. Louis lies in Illinois, across from St. Louis and is a huge industrial center that boasts a casino.
The city was founded by the French in Spanish territory in 1764. French fur traders Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau founded St. Louis on high land just below the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
St. Louis can be easily reached by highway, air, train or riverboat.
By car, St. Louis is reached by Interstate Highways 44, 64, 55 and 70
By air, St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) is 16.8 miles from the Gateway Arch.
By train, Amtrak’s Gateway St. Louis Station is 3.3 miles from the arch. It has frequent service to Chicago and points west and south.
Since St. Louis is on the Mississippi River, riverboat cruises are available locally and to distant destinations north and south.
Must-Sees and Dos for a Short Trip:
The Gateway Arch National Park. Take a trip to the top.
Explore Laclede’s Landing.
Take a local cruise on the Mississippi.
Visit St. Louis Forest Park.
Check out Busch Stadium.
Visit one of St. Louis’ panoply of museums.
If You Have Several Days:
Visit the National Museum of Transportation, an excellent railroad history museum 20 miles from downtown.
Visit the Aquarium at St. Louis Union Station.
Tour the Busch Brewery.
Ginny O’s Tips For Dressing The Simply Smart Travel Way For St. Louis: Tourists can be comfortable with casual dress. Even though it is a big city, there is no need to dress up for tourist attractions.
This Destination at a Glance
Mobility Level: Moderate. There are some hills around the riverbank, and some attractions require walking and climbing some stairs.
When to Go: The shoulder seasons of April and May and September through October are good choices. Summers are hot and humid, and winters are cold.
Where to Stay: The Drury Plaza Hotel at the Gateway Arch is centrally located and has a great happy hour. Most national chains have locations nearby.
Special Travel Interests: U.S. westward expansion.
Jewish St. Louis
The Jewish Federation of St. Louis released a major survey of that metropolitan area’s Jewish community in 2014. Overall, the study shows that St. Louis’ Jewish community is stable, with a wide range of Jewish engagement.
There are about 61,000 Jewish people in St. Louis and another 28,000 non-Jewish persons living in households with at least one Jewish adult.
Of the approximately 89,000 people in at least partially Jewish households, 11% consider themselves “partly Jewish,” and 31% are not Jewish.
The majority of local Jews live in Creve Coeur, Chesterfield, Olivette/Ladue and University City/Clayton.
71% percent of Jews under age 65 in St. Louis are employed, and 70% have earned a college degree. Just over half were born in the St. Louis area.
13% of Jewish households are multi-racial, Hispanic or non-white. 4% are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
91% give to charitable causes, and 80% have volunteered in the past year.
Area Jews practice Jewish rituals less today than a generation ago.
A list of area Jewish houses of worship can be found at jfedstl.org/synagogues/. There are almost 20 different Jewish congregations in the region. The institutional network of Jewish organizations is also fairly dense in St. Louis. See a list at jfedstl.org/community-engagement/. There is also an independent Jewish newspaper called the St. Louis Jewish Light.
Jews have been in the region at least since Joseph Philipson arrived from Pennsylvania in 1807. Wolf Bloch, a native of Schwihau, Bohemia, settled there in 1816.
Early arrivals were not religiously observant and probably intermarried and, in this way, may have lost their Jewish identity; by 1836, the first religious services were held when 10 men rented a little room over Max’s Grocery and Restaurant on the corner of Second and Spruce streets — now occupied by the Gateway Arch. The next year these pioneers organized the United Hebrew Congregation, which is still in existence. It is the oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi River.
The B’nai El congregation was organized in 1852. In 1866 Congregation Shaare Emeth was organized. In 1886, a number of dissatisfied members organized Congregation Temple Israel.
Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.